The first task of a first responder at an emergency is to ensure the scene is safe for firefighters, paramedics, and the public. And, when that emergency involves electricity it's crucial that first responders know the proper safety steps to take around power lines and meters.
“It’s one of those things that slows down any rescue because guys are pretty cognizant about making sure the power is shut off,” Spink County Emergency Manager Larry Tebben said.
Almost 40 first responders from Spink County received first-hand training on electrical emergencies during a nearly two-hour evening session at the Northern Electric Cooperative office in Redfield on July 11.
“Typically, that is one of the first calls I make, after my mutual aid, is to the utilities,” Conde Fire Chief Dave DeBarge said.
At least one representative from almost every Spink County volunteer fire department or emergency response agency attended the training in July.
“They like all the training they can get to make their job as safe as possible,” Tebben said.
Training on electrical hazards during emergencies can be rare for many rural emergency responders, which is the reason Northern Electric Cooperative hosted the July 11 event. Spink County Emergency Manager Larry Tebben said he doesn’t remember a training session which focused specifically on electrical emergencies during his eight years as emergency manager.
“They (Spink County first responders) definitely thought what you were teaching was something worth going to,” Tebben said.
The first hour of the training focused on five main electrical hazards response crews may encounter when they arrive at the scene of an emergency. One of the topics of discussion was a practice called ‘pulling meters.’ Some first responders attempt to shut off power to a home, shop, or business by pulling the electric meter from the socket. However, pulling certain models does not always shut off the power which can create a dangerous situation. Northern Electric crews showed the first responders in attendance the proper way to shut off the power to a home or farm without pulling the meter.
“I think a lot of guys had it in their head that pulling the meter took care of it,” DeBarge said. “Sharing that information of what to do was pretty important.”
First responders also learned the proper steps to take when a vehicle crashes into a power line, how to handle fires on power poles, and the proper safety steps to follow when working around damaged underground transformers.
Following the discussion on electrical hazards, the Northern Electric line crew in Redfield conducted a live high-voltage demonstration using a safety trailer which shows the dangers of contacting a 7,200-volt power line. The Redfield line crew used grapefruits, cucumbers, and hot dogs to show the devastating effect of high-voltage electricity on the human body.
“I thought it was pretty important that first responders get that first-eye view of these electrical hazards,” DeBarge said.
This was the first time Northern Electric Cooperative held a safety training for first responders in Spink County. Northern Electric hosted a similar training in Brown County in 2017. The co-op hopes to make first-responder training an annual event because of the importance of the information that is shared.
“Electricity is a powerful tool and if we do not respect the power of electricity one wrong decision can be the difference between life and death,” Northern Electric Operations Manager Mike Kelly said.
It is the reason electrical safety is a critical component for crews responding to an emergency.